Durga Krishnan's New England School of Carnatic Music - NESCM
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Raga

Introduction

The two important components of music are the melody or the scale and the rhythm or RAGA and TALA, as they are known in Indian Music. Now we can discuss how the ragas were developed in the Carnatic Music system. The whole system was developed on the 7 notes and their variations. Out of the 7 notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B, and C or SA, RI, GA, MA, PA, DA, NI as in Indian music, the first note and the fifth note are constant. Out of the other 5 notes, the 4th note F or Ma has two variations. The other 4 notes D,E,A and B or RI, GA, DA and NI have 3 variations each. So the 72 melakartha or the parent ragas are first divided in to two parts. The first 36 ragas or the scales use the flat Ma or Sudha Madhyamam and are called PURVA RAGAS. The other 36 ragas or the scales use the sharp Ma or the Prathi Madhyama and are called UTTARA RAGAS. The 72 ragas are divided into 12 parts, known as CHAKRAS. Each chakra has 6 ragas. The Ri and Ga combination will change only once in each chakra while the Da and Ni change in every raga. For an example all the ragas will use the same R1 and G1 combination in the first chakra. But the Da and Ni are different in each raga. So the first raga will have D1 and N1, the second raga will have D1 and N2, the third raga will have D1 and N3, the fourth one will have D2 and N2, the fifth one will have D2 and N3 and the sixth raga will have D3 and N3. Then in the second chakra the R and the G will change to R1 and G2 for all six ragas while the Ds and the Nis go through the whole six variations again.

Chakras

The chakras all have very interesting names, which are tied once again to the Hindu mythology. The first chakra is called INDU meaning moon. According to Hindu mythology there is only one moon and so this signifies number one for the first chakra. The next one is NETHRA or eyes. We all have two eyes, so number two for the second chakra. The third one is AGNI or fire – meaning the 3 sacrificial fires, according to Hindu mythology. The fourth one is VEDA – the four Vedas – rig, sama, yajur and atharvana – to signify number 4. The fifth chakra is called BANA – arrow – refers to the cupid or Mara’s five arrows. The sixth one is RUTU or seasons – suggesting the 6 seasons according to the Indian calendar. The seventh one is RISHI, referring to the 7 sages from whom according to the mythology all the Hindus evolved. The eighth one is known as VASU – meaning the ashta vasus or the celestial beings. The ninth one is BRAHMA. It refers to the Navabrahmas according to the Hindu mythology. The tenth chakra is called DISI or directions – North, South, East, West, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, Sky or Akasa and Underground or Patala. The eleventh one is RUDRA, which represents the concept of eleven rudras, and the twelth one is ADITYA.

Melakartha Ragas

The melakartha or parent ragas are symmetrical – that is they have the same seven notes in both the AROHANA or the ascending order and the AVAROHANA or the descending order. These ragas are also called JANAKA ragas meaning parent ragas. The tens of thousands of ragas that were developed from these 72 parent or Janaka ragas are called JANYA ragas. The word Janya comes from jananam or to be born. The janya ragas are compiled into three major groups. They are SAMPURNA, SHADAVA, and AUDAVA. Sampurna ragas have all seven notes in their order in both arohana and avarohana or the ascending and descending scale. Example – Bhairavi – a janya raga of the 20the Mela Natabhairavi – S,R,G,M,P,D,N,S and S,N,D1,P,M,G,R,S. Shadava ragas have six notes in order in both arohana and avarohana. Example – Sriranjani – a janya raga of the 22nd mela Karaharapriya – S,R,G,M,D,N,S and S,N,D,M,G,R,S. Audava ragas have five notes in order in both arohana and avarohana. Example – Hamsadhwani – a janya raga of the 29th mela Deera Shankarabharanam – S,R,G,P,N,S and S,N,P,G,R,S. Within the above three major groups there are also other subdivisions known as SAMPURNA SHADAVA ( 7 notes going up and 6 notes coming down), SHADAVA SAMPURNA (6 notes going up and 7 notes coming down), SAMPURNA AUDAVA(7 going up and 5 coming down), AUDAVA SAMPURNA (5 notes going up and 7 notes coming down),SHADAVA AUDAVA (6 notes going up and 5 notes coming down), and AUDAVA SHADAVA (5 notes going up and 6 notes coming down). With the available mathematical possibilities, each parent raga can yield 483 janya ragas.